Authors’ Lounge – In conversation with Paddy – Shernaz Wadia and Avril Meallem (a.k.a Shernaz and Avril)

Published by: Paddy on 25th Oct 2014 | View all blogs by Paddy

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Shernaz and Avril have struck a deep personal bond and have been working jointly in a new medium that they have named ‘Tapestry,’ where two poems written on a common theme are dexterously woven together for an aesthetic and poetic impact. I, like many others, have been a fan of their Tapestry style poetry where words and lines of two poems and poets blend creating a lasting impression of beautiful concepts, patterns and designs woven seamlessly into a tapestry.

I had the good fortune of reading and posting a review here of their beautiful book ‘Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds' 
(http://www.ratemyliterature.com/magazine/read/tapestry-poetry--a-fusion-of-two-minds--by-avril-meallem-and-shernaz-wadia--a-review_1919.html)  that gave me a good understanding of their thought processes. Yet, I have always been fascinated by the fact that despite being separated by continents, Avril and Shernaz collaborate, co-operate and communicate so well through their Tapestry poems!. What’s amazing is that sometimes they are able to weave together a tapestry out of two asymmetric poems too! Intrigued? Then, what’s better than hearing from the poets themselves?

Friends, it is a huge honour and pleasure for me to present here an (e-mail) interaction with the innovators and inventors of the Tapstry genre of poetry, Shernaz Wadia and Avril Meallem  (a.k.a  Shernaz and Avril). It is interesting to note that their joint answers to my questionnaire further reinforce  their unique brand of tapestry. 


01. Hi Shernaz! Hi Avril! Greetings from RML and a warm welcome to the Authors’ Lounge! Please do share with us something about your background and early years. And oh yes, please answer this question individually!
 
Shernaz: Hello, Paddy.  Thank you so much for this honour.  RML is fast gaining in popularity and is widely read.  It is a pleasure to be here. 
 
Born into a Parsi family, I have been raised according to Zoroastrian tenets, the most important and basic one being “ Humata - Good Thoughts, Hukhta - Good Words and  Huvarashta - Good Deeds”.  My parents were quite liberal and sent my siblings and me to a boarding (St. Joseph’s High School) in Valsad (Gujrat) as there were no English medium schools then in Surat and they lived in a village about seven kilometres away. But not before the foundation of learning was laid through the basics of our mother-tongue, Gujarati.   After schooling I did my teachers’ training course in Wadia College, Pune and later taught for a while (till I got married) in St. Xavier’s School, Surat.  Then, as I brought up my two daughters I tutored primary school children for quite a few years. Simultaneously I had begun a correspondence course in journalism but unfortunately had to give it up due to an eye problem. I was restricted for two years from reading, writing, movies – anything that strained the eyes. 

I had closeted my poems for decades. A young friend who happened to read them urged me to post them online and so started my foray into the world of webzines, anthologies, blogs etc. I also dabble in the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka and have written a few short stories, articles and book reviews. 
 
Avril: Thank you so much Paddy for inviting us to be featured in this month’s Authors’ Lounge.
 
I was born in Edgware, a town on the outskirts of London, UK in 1944. My grandparents, on both sides, had emigrated from Russia/Poland due to the pogroms against the Jewish people there. I didn’t have much of a Jewish upbringing and only became orthodox ie a practising Jew when I married . My husband Ezra, was born in Cairo , Egypt but was forced to leave in 1956.  With his parents and siblings he fled to Israel and 10 years later came to study in England where we met.
 
Since early childhood I had always had a great love of the natural world and there would feel in touch with God. I remember once creeping out from my school premises during lunch break and going to a nearby park. I must have been about 15 at the time.  It was a foggy day with the sun trying to break through. The grassy covered park was surrounded with trees and it seemed like a myriad sparkling diamonds hang from their branches.  I was so overwhelmed that I just broke out into an ecstatic dance of gratitude to God for this magical experience. No doubt I was late back to class and given a detention but it was worth it!  Dance has played a major role in my life as it was the only way I could express any deep felt emotions until poetry came into my life in 1997. 
 
After school I studied Physiotherapy and specialized in paediatrics. I worked in a school for children with special needs and then later in an adult brain injury unit and in a geriatric psychiatric hospital. Apart from physiotherapy I also studied various complementary therapies and incorporated them into my physiotherapy work.
 
In 1998, I immigrated to Israel with my husband. Three of my children had already emigrated and my fourth followed a year later. We now live in Jerusalem where I spend my time in voluntary work, studying Jewish spirituality, poetry writing and helping with my grandchildren. 

My husband and I love travelling, especially to Far Eastern countries. We caught this love from our children who have travelled extensively and pushed us to take the challenge of such adventurous travel. In 2004 we made our first trip which was to India for 5 weeks. We travelled from Kanyakumari all the way up to Rajasthan .We fell in love with India and have since made a further 3 trips there each about two months long. Our first trip was with rucksacks on our backs but now it’s with cases on wheels!!

02. That's really interesting and impressive! How did you develop an interest in poetry? What drew you to it? Please answer this question too individually.
 
Shernaz: English language and the way one can play with words always fascinate me. Though I went from Gujarati medium to the English, I picked up the language pretty quickly and realised early that I had a flair for it. I loved learning new words and used to read the dictionary at random. My maternal grandpa had been nicknamed ‘walking dictionary’. I guess I inherited my penchant for words from him. His home was never short of reading material – books on various subjects - religion, philosophy, fiction, theosophy - magazines in English and Gujarati including a rich trove of Readers’ Digest, which I used to devour during school vacations.  
 
I loved the poems we were taught in school. Perhaps I developed my love for poetry from my mother, who had note-books of verses she had copied down in her beautiful handwriting…poems that we didn’t always get to read in school text books. I would show her my immaturely penned poems and she used to be quietly supportive. 
 
I could say that my interest in writing poems developed quite by chance. My first poem too was a collaborative effort!  Our school was to bring out a magazine to commemorate its Silver Jubilee year. A co-boarder approached me diffidently and showed me a poem, that she had written, titled ‘A Beggar’. I liked it and with a bit of editing and the addition of a verse we submitted it for the magazine. It was accepted and I must say that it was a proud moment to see my name in print and be appreciated by our teachers.  We were in the seventh standard then. I have lost contact with her now but am always grateful to her for inadvertently bringing me face-to-face with my muse.  
 
Avril: Paddy, you ask me what drew me to poetry. Well it just happened out of the blue.
 
English was my weakest subject in school; in fact I used to come way down at the bottom in English and near the top in Maths every year. I wasn’t even allowed to take the state English Literature exam as I was so hopeless at it.  My teacher said it was a waste of their money! 
 
In April 1997, during a time of emotional turmoil I was advised by my doctor to take a day out on my own, I decided to go down to Brighton, a seaside town not too far from London. I had with me an artist’s drawing pad that had been gifted to me by one of my patients and sat down on the beach to draw a picture of the waves but somehow my pen had other ideas and words just started flowing through it and so my first poem was born! From that moment on I have been able to tap into a source beyond my thought to bring down into poems my deep felt emotions. I was able release the turmoil that I was going through by just going inwards and letting my pen write freely without conscious thought and more often than not it would end up on a positive note. I feel so thankful to God that this gate of artistic expression was opened for me and now allows me to drawer down into poetry the wonderment I feel in the world around me or the confusion of the chaotic world of humanity. 
   
03. How did you both get together? And how was the tapestry style of poetry born?
 
We became acquainted with each other’s poetry on ‘Your Space’ of the Muse India literary e-journal. We were frequently responding to each other’s poems and we both felt a special bond developing between us. We met in Mumbai, during my (Avril) visit to India in 2010 and we connected immediately on a deep level. I asked her if she would like to work with me on a style of collaborative writing that I had worked on earlier, with a poet in Jerusalem. This involved each, independently, writing a nine line poem on a title that we would alternate in choosing. The title chooser would take the two poems and interlace them line by line with some minimal grammatical changes and just see if the new eighteen line poem could stand on its own. We tried this a few times via email but both felt that it was somewhat boring and didn’t offer us any challenges so we decided to change the whole idea and formed a new set of rules whereby random mixing of lines is undertaken and far greater editing possibilities offered. Thus we embarked on what has turned out to be a most challenging and exciting poetic journey. 
 
We called this new genre of collaborative poetry writing, 'Tapestry Poetry' as we felt that we were weaving the lines of our two distinct nine line poems into one flowing 18 line poem that could stand on its own, with its own theme and which also did not necessarily need to follow the themes of either of the individual poems.

04. Please share with us the process that goes into the creation of a tapestry poem each time.
 
Every tapestry poem is the result of team work. Once a title has been given by either of us, (we do it alternately), each of us writes out a nine line poem and sends it across to the other as an email attachment. Neither of us opens the other’s till both the poems have been exchanged. This prevents us from being influenced by the other’s theme. 
 
Then begins the task of weaving together the two individual poems using the following set of guidelines that we jointly developed for this genre:  
 
  • The majority of words of the original poems should be kept but grammatical changes can be made e.g. singular to plural, verb tense changes, replacing words with those of a similar meaning.
     
  • Adjectives and adverbs can be replaced with others more befitting the Tapestry but again, keeping them similar in meaning to the original.
     
  • All 9 lines of each poem have to be used. They can be mixed around or split up but the resulting Tapestry has to be of eighteen lines.  
Sometimes we each come up with an individual weave and when exchanged it becomes obvious to us both as to which one has the greater potential for a final Tapestry. So then we just work on that one or maybe even use a mix of both weaves. On other occasions one of us may come up with a weave before the other has even started one and we just continue editing this one.
 
We keep editing, changing, re-writing the tapestry poem, sending it to and fro till both of us are completely satisfied with the final result. We do not even change a punctuation mark without consulting the other!  In this way Tapestry Poetry becomes a truly collaborative process. It is challenging, gratifying and addictive. 
 
05. Does this process also sometimes involve disagreements, arguments and what not? If yes, how do you resolve them and arrive at a common ground? Also on what issues do disagreements, if at all, between the two of you usually occur?
 
There are times when we reach a point where it could be considered a disagreement, but over the years we have come to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the process of weaving our poems and have learnt to respect them and each other.  We try to make sure not to hurt each other’s or anyone else’s religious beliefs or sentiments and make appropriate changes should this occur.  Also we do not touch topics like politics.   
 
We did have a few disagreements when we wanted to publish our book but eventually we settled that amicably.
 
Arguments and what not? We don’t think so. As mentioned earlier we connect on a certain level where there is mutual understanding and respect for each other and know that getting a Tapestry that is as near perfect as we are able to is the only thing that matters most during the whole process.      

06. Please tell us about your publications – jointly and individually.
 
Jointly:

We have the book "Tapestry Poetry, a fusion of two minds" mentioned above by you in your introduction.
 
Individually:

I (Shernaz) have published a book of a few of my poems titled  “Whispers of the Soul”.
 
I (Avril) have published a book of my poetry titled “Dancing with the Wind, a poetic journey through the joys, pains and wonders of life.”

07. Have you considered putting your Tapestry style poetry up for translations to spread this unique genre across languages? 
 
Honestly, no, we haven’t as yet considered this but it is a very exciting suggestion Paddy.  It would be an absolute boost for this genre and if there is anyone amongst your readers interested in translating our poems into any Indian or even a foreign language we would be most delighted to send them a copy of our book. 
 
Some while ago Indian poet Diwakar Abhishek  did translate some of the tapestry poems into Hindi and posted them onto his blog. He has translated a few more which he will put up on his blog soon. Here are links to two of our poems translated by him :

http://chhalaktepaimane.blogspot.com/2011/05/blog-post_664.html

http://chhalaktepaimane.blogspot.com/2011/05/blog-post_28.html

08. How would you react if your style was modified to suit individual poet teams? Would you consider it further innovation or an interference in and violation of your style of poetry?
 
This was done on one occasion that we are aware of and we both felt a little uneasy about it. We feel that, should anyone want to publish on the web etc, any innovation to this genre then it would only be fair to us if it was noted that their work was based on our Tapestry Poetry genre, stating also our names. But in the private domain, we cannot expect that poets would not want to make their own innovations
 
09. What are your future projects? Any publications in the offing?
 
Recently we decided to ‘spread our wings’ and work on Tapestries with other poets, both within our own countries and abroad. Some of these can be seen on the ‘Your Tapestry Poems’ section of our web site - www.tapestrypoetry.webs.com 
 
We are hoping to enlarge the scale of this project and include some of the best of these poems in a second volume of our ‘Tapestry Poems’ that we expect to be able to publish in the near future.
    
10. What are your views on the modern trends in poetry? Do you enjoy reading them? Any particular favourites? You are welcome to answer this query individually.
 
Shernaz: As I understand, a language lives because it evolves; as it grows, some trends catch on and a few just fade away.  Though it is not a new trend I really enjoy what are known as calligrammes or visual poetry which goes as far back as the 17th century.  It is like a dividend that delights the eyes.  
 
 I love to read poems by Arun Kolatkar, Jayanta Mahapatra, Maya Angelou, Robert Bly, Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney… to name just a few.  It is very difficult to choose a favourite among the masters, but I must say I am always completely bowled over by the works of Khalil Gibran.    
 
Avril: Not coming from a literary background I find some of the modern, ’intellectual’ poetry quite incomprehensible and thus tend not to read them. I do, however, enjoy the modern trend of shorter, non-rhyming poetry. I also find exciting, the trend of experimentation and innovation in modern poetry writing and the wider choice of themes, away from romanticism, that now cover all aspects of life - nature, religion, social, political, psychological etc in either their positive or negative aspects.

I do not have any particular favourite poet but I have to say that I find Indian poetry especially rewarding to read as generally it is easily comprehensible to me but, at the same time, is also deeply meaningful.

Comments

16 Comments

  • Padma
    by Padma 2 years ago
    Paddy, It's really very interesting to know about Avril and Shernaz! Firstly, let me appreciate etentacles for providing space for all the poets/writers to open up their minds and express ideas!

    Hi Avril and Shernaz! I was very much happy to know about you! It's so wonderful to learn about your childhood, passion, interests, abilities and thoughts that you put together! I appreciate you wholeheartedly for your achievements! How nice to see both of you with friendliness and cooperation! Nations are different, but notion is good! Good luck to both of you! warm regards!
  • nasaru
    by nasaru 2 years ago
    A vaery valuable interaction for liteerature students too.
  • Saf
    by Saf 2 years ago
    What a wonderful interview...Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, then again I also have a bias towards these 2 ladies, and cannot help but admire them and their joint venture...I learnt something new about both the ladies again today and the tapestry is most fascinating...Thanks Paddy for this lovely read....really enjoyed...
  • Preeta
    by Preeta 2 years ago
    Such a lovely interview! I have also had the honour and pleasure of reading the tapestry poetry by Shernaz and Avril, and have immensely enjoyed their work.
  • Rajeev
    by Rajeev 2 years ago
    A very enlightening interview that gave insights about two poets from different culture and also a lot of information on collaboration & this new genre of tapestry poems! Thank you Paddy for delighting readers as usual!
  • Pankaj
    by Pankaj 2 years ago
    Such an interesting and in-depth insight about two great ladies… Shernaz and Avril!

    Paddy …Thank you for being “real” and so very hands-on while writing about people.
    This is a great effort and very good opportunity to know about writers and poets.

    All the best!
  • Pankajam
    by Pankajam 2 years ago
    Hi Paddy, Thank you very much for presenting the masterminds behind the innovative genre of poetry, "tapestry". I too had the pleasure of reading their work in Your Space at Muse India which I used to appreciate. Now I am so happy to learn more about the process of giving shape to a Tapestry through Authors Lounge here. Best wishes to Shernaz and Avril for their future endeavours.
  • bubul
    by bubul 2 years ago
    Agree with everyone above , it is really a nice interview, an interview to learn from, and regarding their poems it is always a soft and soothing feeling I get when I read their poems
  •  Shernaz and Avril
    by Shernaz and Avril 2 years ago
    To all you dear fellow poets, your comments on our interview are so appreciated. Answering the joint questions was just another practice in Tapestry writing. Our editing went back and forth via email until we had arrived at an answer that satisfied both of us.
    Paddy, thanks so much for giving us this opportunity to share something about ourselves and our Tapestry Poetry genre. Through it we have also leaned something new about each other.
  • Paddy
    by Paddy 2 years ago
    Dear Shernaz and Avril, thanks for gracing the Authors' Lounge and providing all of us here valuable insights into your innovative poetry genre, Tapestry. For me personally, interacting with you both is always an enjoyable and illuminating experience.

    Thanks Padma, nasaru Sir, Saf, Preeta, Rajeev, Pankaj, Pankajam and bubul for dropping by and posting your feedback.
  • hema
    by hema 2 years ago
    I have been fascinated by the fact that despite geographical limitations and spiritual diversity, these poets have created a genre of poetry. Three Cheers! Paddy for bringing to us yet another insightful interview.
  • Paddy
    by Paddy 2 years ago
    Thanks Hema for dropping by at the Authors' Lounge and your valuable feedback.
  • Dr John Celes
    by Dr John Celes 2 years ago
    Congratulations dear poets for being featured for this month in a special way here and nice to know something more about you both as well a new genre called 'tapestry' poetry. Hope I will find time to learn the rules and even try if possible. Wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.
  •  Shernaz and Avril
    by Shernaz and Avril 2 years ago
    Thank you Hema and Dr. John Celes. Dear doctor, it will be gratifying if you and some other poets try out tapestry poems. We will be glad to showcase those poems on our website. Once again, we are grateful to Paddy and all those who have visited this interview and given your valuable feedback.
  • Elizabeth Kurian 'Mona'
    by Elizabeth Kurian 'Mona' 2 years ago
    Three cheers for three of you (Women are good at embroidery too) for the designs created by the tapestry on RML. It was all the more interesting for me since I had the good fortune to have met and spent some quality time with Shernaz at Pune and at Paddy's house at Hyderabad. Avril and Shernaz are truly poetic ambassadors doing a better job than the political ones!
  • Raja
    by Raja 2 years ago
    I have great pleasure in going through the literary careers of both Shernaz and Avril, and their Tapestry Poems in Muse India were quite interesting to me as a Member of MI. I admire both of them from the bottom of my heart and wish them both all the best in their joint venture.
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